Premier League: Skrtel reopens old wounds as Arsenal falter

Frank Dalleres
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Martin Skrtel’s header saw Liverpool return to the Premier League’s top half, while Arsenal lie sixth

ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger blamed a hangover from last season’s 5-1 humiliation for a lukewarm performance and another late surrender at 10-man Liverpool yesterday.

Goals from defender Mathieu Debuchy and striker Olivier Giroud cancelled out Philippe Coutinho’s opener and put the Gunners on course to take all three Premier League points at Anfield.

But Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel was allowed a free run at a corner to head an equaliser in the seventh minute of injury time, despite the dismissal of substitute Fabio Borini.

Wenger criticised the lax defending that invited the home team’s deserved leveller, and attributed his side’s sluggish showing to the scars of February’s Anfield drubbing.

“We conceded a corner that was a bit unlucky and where we were guilty was that we didn’t jump at all with Martin Skrtel,” he said.

“It’s a fair result over the whole 90 minutes, but it’s frustrating for us, because they came back at a moment in the game where we had plenty of defenders on the pitch and could defend the set piece much better.

“We had problems today getting our flow going and we didn’t have enough possession in the game. In the first half, it was down to tactical reasons and psychological reasons, whereas in the second half we blocked them much better. Maybe bad memories from last year played a part as well; I think some players were not at their best today.”

Skrtel’s equaliser meant Arsenal missed the chance to go level on points with fifth-placed Southampton and instead lie sixth, just goal difference ahead of rivals Tottenham.

Liverpool climbed back into the top half of the table and one point ahead of their neighbours Everton, though they could have been out of sight by half-time after controlling the first 45 minutes.

Wing-back Lazar Markovic had the best chances, drawing a near-post save from Wojciech Szcesny and then failing to keep down a shot from the edge of the penalty area.

Coutinho proved more efficient in the 45th minute, sidestepping Debuchy before screwing a low shot through Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker’s legs and in off the post.

But Debuchy made amends almost instantly, outjumping Skrtel to nod past Brad Jones after Mathieu Flamini headed back into the goalmouth when the home defence generously declined to clear a free-kick.

It was Arsenal’s first effort on target, and they took the lead with their second in the 64th minute, Giroud sweeping a first-time shot through Jones’s legs from Santi Cazorla’s cut-back.

From then on they clung on but a Liverpool equaliser looked inevitable, even when forward Borini received a second booking in as many minutes in second-half injury time.

It came in the 97th minute when centre-back Skrtel – whose head injury had caused the stoppage that necessitated the stoppage time – out-jumped Arsenal’s meek defence and met an Adam Lallana corner with a full-blooded downward header.